I know places we can hide

Opsec tips from Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift is operational security and computer safety advocate. You may not also be aware that she’s a highly-successful musician whose work has won ten Grammy awards.

Swift frequently advises compartmentation — the practice of completely separating different activities and personas so that small slips don’t lead to big compromises. However, she doesn’t seem to able to separate her security expertise from her artistic inspiration: her songs sometimes feature useful security tips.

In particular, I Know Places, from Swift’s multi-platinum album 1989, is a narrative account of a clandestine operation gone wrong, and the steps needed to pull defeat from the jaws of annihilation. The track also contains a wealth of evergreen advice on the basics of clandestine operation.


STFU

Loose lips sink ships all the damn time, not this time

Here, Swift illustrates the five most important operational security maxims:

  1. Shut up.
  2. Stop talking.
  3. Remain silent.
  4. Keep quiet.
  5. Don’t say anything.

Avoid revealing operational details — every piece of information you reveal makes it one step easier for an adversary to effectively act against you. The most important step in protecting your assets and your operatives is to keep your cards close to your chest.


Moscow Rules

Trust your gut

I can hear them whisper as we pass by
It’s a bad sign

Trust your instincts. Your training may alert you that something’s wrong before you manage to piece it together. If it feels wrong, it is wrong.

Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times: it’s enemy action.

Something happens when everybody finds out
See the vultures circle in dark clouds

By the time you notice enemy operatives, the mission is over. At this point, your objective is out of reach — if indeed it was available at all. The only thing to do now is fall back to plan B, and then plan C, which brings us to:

Create opportunities for yourself

I know places we won’t be found
I know places we can hide

Have a fall-back plan. When an operation eventually goes sideways, you’re going to need to get out. Have a clean safe-house, and a contingency safe-house, and another fall-back extraction plan. But even then…

Work your cover, go with the flow, learn your beat

Lights flash and we’ll run for the fences

There is no substitute for local knowledge and experience. Leave yourself options, create future opportunities to get out, and operate with failure in mind. You don’t know what your adversary knows. They may have the ability to neutralize your well-laid plans. At that point, you have no choice but to improvise. Then you’ll need to know what to do without thinking.


Don’t underestimate your adversary

Force your adversary to waste their advantages

’Cause they got the cages, they got the boxes, and guns
They are the hunters, we are the foxes, and we run

When you’re operating in enemy territory, your adversary has all the resources. You need to build your strategies asymmetrically. Create encounters where their overwhelming resources and numbers provide only minimal advantage. Force your adversary to expend resources foreclosing opportunities that you never intend to use.

Misdirection, Cover, and Concealment

They’ll be chasing their tails tryin’ to track us down

Closely related to asymmetric operation is misdirection. It’s valuable to force your adversary to expend resources countering your unlikely potential moves. It’s even more effective to persuade them to counter wholly fictional operations, assets, and operatives.



Full Lyrics

You stand with your hand on my waistline
Good to see that we’re out here in plain sight
I can hear them whisper as we pass by
It’s a bad sign, bad sign
Something happens when everybody finds out
See the vultures circle in dark clouds
Love’s a fragile little flame
It could burn out — it could burn out
’Cause they got the cages, they got the boxes, and guns
They are the hunters, we are the foxes, and we run
Baby I know places we won’t be found, and
They’ll be chasing their tails tryin’ to track us down
’Cause I — I know places we can hide
I know places, I know places
Lights flash and we’ll run for the fences
Let them say what they want, we won’t hear it 
Loose lips sink ships all the damn time, not this time
Just grab my hand and don’t ever drop it, my love
They are the hunters, we are the foxes, and we run
Baby I know places we won’t be found and they’ll be
Chasing their tails trying to track us down
’Cause I — I know places we can hide, I know places
They are the hunters, we are the foxes, and we run
Just grab my hand and don’t ever drop it, my love
Baby I know places we won’t be found and
They’ll be chasing their tails trying to track us down
’Cause I — I know places we can hide, I know places
They take their shots, we’re bulletproof (I know places)
And you know for me it’s always you (I know places)
In the dead of night, your eyes so green (I know places)
And I know for you it’s always me (I know places)